Brushfire Records GM, JOSH NICOTRA, talks Jack Johnson, touring, and music business

Josh Nicotra

…selling music is not purely about the quality of the record.” — Josh Nicotra

Please tell us where you’re from and who influenced you to pursue a career in music?
Music influenced my life early on. As soon as I had money to buy music I did. When I was around 12, people would ask me what I wanted to do when I got older and I would always say, “music.” It has always been a primary focus of mine. When I got to college I started writing record reviews for the campus newspaper and, I was also on the committee that brought concerts to our school. When I graduated (college), I took a job working for my uncle so I could save up some cash to move out to California. My plan was to either go to law school or business school so that I could get into the music business that way.

So how did you wind up in the music business and working at Brushfire?
As the job with my uncle became more lucrative, I found myself focusing more on that. A couple of years had passed before I realized that if I didn’t make a move soon, then I probably never would. So, I told my uncle I was going to leave and he was supportive of my decision. At the time, I was living in Connecticut, so I got on and started sending out resumes to music related listings in New York City. Even though I was the Operations Manager at my uncles company, I had to start out looking for entry level jobs because his company wasn’t music related.

I got a couple of interviews, one of which was at Universal Motown (Records). At the time (1999) they had just started their New Media department and needed an assistant. I started there as a part-time temp, but that job turned into a fulltime gig and eventually an official staff position. Up until that point, I was being paid through a temp agency. From there, I went on to become a coordinator – which is just a glorified assistant – and then I got promoted to Direcotor of New Media. Eventually, I wound up over in the marketing department as the Director of Marketing. In that position, I worked as a product manager on a wide range of releases, which included two of the first records on the Brushfire imprint – G.Love and Donavon Frankenreiter.

(Brushfire) was a deal that had been done between Jack Johnson and Universal. In my position, I was working with the co-owner of Brushfire, Emmett Malloy (Jack’s manager), and talking to him and the Brushfire staff on a daily basis. When the “In Between Dreams” record came out from Jack, I ended up doing day-to-day on it, while my boss oversaw the project. That record became a massive success and Brushfire was able to turn their imprint deal into a distribution deal. So, they went from signing bands to Universal through their imprint, to signing bands directly to Brushfire.

At that point, they needed someone to help them run the company, rather than just helping them as an imprint. That’s when they called me and asked if I’d be interested in moving to LA to run the record label for them; or if I knew someone who’d be interested. To be honest, I never really wanted to live in Los Angeles because I considered myself a New Yorker. But, I thought, “How could I possibly give this gig to someone else?” [laughs] My girlfriend, at the time, encouraged me to take it and she’d consider moving to Los Angeles; so I took it! I moved to LA in September 2005 and I’ve been at Brushfire ever since.

As the GM at Brushfire, what are you most proud of about the label itself?
I think the great thing about this label is that it’s owned by an artist (Jack Johnson). For him, it’s really about making music, not money. Jack and his wife donated all of his profit from his last two tours to charities. But, of course, part of the reason he’s able to do that is because he does quite well on his recorded music sales.

That means that this label is not necessarily a profit center for him. We put out records that we love; and yes, we hope that each release has commercial success but, that’s not the only driver. We don’t just put out something because we think it’s catchy and has a high potential of selling, if we also think the record is lame. It has to be music that we love and believe the world should hear.

Obviously, that’s not the case for a lot of labels. Some (labels) would purposely put out music they know is terrible, just because they know it’s going to sell enough singles over the next 3 months to make it worthwhile. That’s not an invalid piece of the business, but it’s just not our piece of the business.